Sonia seeks support of urban electorates

On Friday, Sonia Gandhi fleshed out version 2.0 of India’s Grand Old Party — asking the Congress to orient itself to India’s aspirational youth and middle classes and reach out to them. In her crisp 20-minute long opening speech at the Chintan Shivir, Ms. Gandhi asked the Congress “to recognize the new India…increasingly peopled by a younger, more aspirational, more impatient, more demanding and better educated generation.” She said India’s youth wanted their voice “to be heard”.

With people better informed and better equipped to communicate, thanks to television, the social media, mobile phones and the internet, Ms. Gandhi pointed out, “Our people are expecting much more from their political parties.” If the MGNREGA had brought employment to rural India, Ms. Gandhi said there was need to provide employment in urban and semi urban areas as well.

For a party that has seen itself as a champion of the poor and the marginalised, Ms. Gandhi’s indirect admission that the middle class was a constituency the Congress ignored at its peril marked a departure from the past. It was also a reminder that the party will face its fiercest challenge in next year’s general elections in urban and semi-urban India — where it performed remarkably well in 2009.

In keeping with the objective of the chintan shivir – introspection camp – Ms. Gandhi turned the spotlight inwards, taking in a host of issues, from gender concerns migrating from the margins of political activity to its “heart” through the critical need to continue the battle against corruption, and taking up the causes espoused by the various protest movements relating to land, forest, water, livelihood, and tribal rights.

Obliquely referring to last month’s gangrape and heinous assault of a young paramedical student in Delhi, Ms. Gandhi told the 345 party delegates gathered at the BM Birla Science and Technology Auditorium here that gender issues would no longer be left to the Mahila Congress or to women’s organizations – she wanted them to change their mindsets and place it at the heart of their political activity.